Curiosity is a corner-stone of my job, although you may not necessarily expect it. I’ve worked in analytics for over a decade, and increasingly talk to a range of groups about the importance of effective measurement as a key tool in improvement. When I do, the principle that gives rise to the most discussion is to ‘be a data detective’. Apart from using this as an excuse to get a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch on the screen, this means look deeper. Don’t limit yourself to what you see at first. Question everything.
Excuse to get a picture of Benedict Cumberbatch on the screen
Intuitively we can all think of examples where asking just one more question led to a great new idea, and there’s an increasing evidence base, across a range of scientific disciplines, to back this up. A range of studies have shown that curiosity can drive organisational innovation, support recruitment and retention, and ultimately help deliver better services.
Most critically, in a rapidly changing world, and a working environment that bears little resemblance to that of just a generation ago, there is evidence that curiosity creates organisations that cope better with complexity.
In addition, in the individual, it has been shown that curiosity is correlated with an increased tolerance for ambiguity.
Taken together, it seems that curiosity can equip us far better for the realities of modern work than many ‘hard skills’ that are assumed will do the same. It is easy to see then, that curiosity could be the secret ingredient to preventing staff burnout and reducing stubborn sickness rates. After all, it appears curiosity doesn’t just benefit organisations, but us as individuals too – driving academic success, helping us learn, and even making us happier.
In the largest survey of its type last year, 65% of workers said that curiosity was essential to discover new ideas, and 84% said it was the curious person that is most likely to bring an idea to life at work. However, the same survey found only 20% of all employees self-identified as curious, and only 9% felt that their organisational culture was extremely supportive of curiosity.
"Curiosity can drive organisational innovation, support recruitment and retention, and deliver better services."
The need to improve outcomes and do more for less is making the status quo increasingly unsustainable across the public sector, and also in other sectors. In short, if we want greater change, we need more curiosity.
At this point you may be forgiven for thinking that in a world which demands grip and control, such an amorphous, unpractical concept as curiosity is a luxury too far. Curiosity is for kids and it apparently increases mortality rates in felines.
At which point, of course, you would be completely wrong. Successive studies have shown that curiosity is like a muscle: it can be trained or left to wither. It can be supported by organisations, or ruthlessly stamped on.
So where to start? Here are three starters.
The first is asking good questions, and proactively encouraging your teams to do the same. The survey quoted above found that 73% of respondents felt they experienced at least one barrier to asking more questions at work. Would your workplace fare better?
The second is to actively listen to the answers, and having the time to explore unexpected issues. How many of us have fallen into a Wikipedia rabbit hole, where we start looking for the population of Shanghai, and end up reading about tram factories in Preston? Imagine what it would look like to have the time and space to explore our curiosity in the workplace in the same way.
The third is to seek out others who are equally curious. It’s exactly this we’re doing in Curiosity Club, a pioneering new network from Kaleidoscope Health and Care. Curiosity Club brings together the latest evidence on how increased curiosity armours us for the modern workplace, improves our health and even interpersonal relationships. Starting in the autumn and running for 12 months, the Club will help participants understand and articulate the benefits curious behaviours can bring to their work.